The Punjab Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has rewarded hundreds of environmental approvals on distorted information during the last five years, Daily Times has learnt. These approvals have been rewarded by Punjab EPA’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) section on the basis of EIA and Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) reports of various projects in the province with the connivance of EPA officials. Amid the growing environmental challenges in Punjab, EPA, which is the custodian of the province’s environment, remained under criticism for not controlling the rising level of pollution owing to departmental politics, corruption and malpractices of its officials. On other hand, many private laboratories have been alleged for producing fake results on industrial environmental samples. “Such unrealistic data is being used by various environmental consultants in their Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reports to get environmental approvals for the businesses of their clients,” said an official while seeking anonymity. Officials revealed that consultants while submitting their clients’ project proposals fraudulently use certified private laboratories’ names while using their letterheads. Most of the time EPA officials also help consultants in making fake EIA/IEE reports using the name of any certified laboratory’s name illegally. EPA has certified over dozens of private laboratories to perform limited parameters but, on other hand, these consultants have been getting approvals even for those parameters for which laboratories have not been given permission to perform tests. For getting environmental approval, a proponent has to submit a compliance status report (CSR) which must be prepared by the EPA’s field officer. These CSR must be in compliance with Punjab Environmental Quality Standards (PEQS). According to sources, despite the fact that most of the industrial units do not comply with the conditions of PEQS, have been rewarded environmental approvals. Sources further said that after getting CSRs, its EIA section duty to get them be verified from the laboratory section but this process is avoided. “This mala practice leads to lack of scientific evidence in compliance of environmental laws as well as establishment of pollution allegation,” they said adding that the EIA section also rewarded approvals of operational phases of different businesses which had already failed by EPA’s own laboratory.” This also has been learnt during the tenure of former EPA DG Tanvir Warraich, the process of rewarding environmental approval was very low. However, after his transfer in June 2020, EPA officials started the process of giving approval on pending applications. The former DG was reluctant because he was suspicious about the process, sources informed. Seeking anonymity, a senior director told Daily Times that EIA’s irregularity continued despite the fact that many private laboratories’ previous reports were found doubtful. “EIA section is still reluctant to get verification of information provided by the proponents in their EIA reports,” he added. Environmental experts have raised their concerns over the malpractices of EPA on rewarding EIA to hundreds of private and public projects on basis of unrealistic and fake information. Environmental lawyer Sardar Asif Sial was of the view that the EIA/IEE report was not a bundle of pages but it was a complete environmental management plan (EMP) of any project, containing mechanisms of monitoring during and post construction phases of the project. He said that the EIA report actually depicted the philosophy of the project whether this could work in an environment friendly way or not. “Unfortunately there is no proper mechanism of verifying the EIA reports submitted to EPA and that is why implementation plans are not being ensured by proponents,” Sial said adding that there must be a complete audit of all the previous approvals rewarded by EPA. WWF-Pakistan DG Hammad Naqi while talking to Daily Times said that environmental degradation was the biggest issue of the time which must be coped through proper enforcement of the law. He believed that many environmental issues can be solved only if conditions of EIA were implemented in letter and spirit.